Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Army Woman Speaks

My good friend Leah Charles chatted with me on Instant Messenger about her experience as a woman in the army. She enlisted post 9/11, has served three years, and was recently married to a soldier. She is in the United States until June 18th, as she came home to recover from a surgery (unrelated to the war zone). For now, she is hanging around the Fort, doing busy work. The conversation about discrimination started with the inquisition on whether her cohorts will think she is being a "typical woman" in that she is home healing, instead of fighting.

B.S: If you don't mind me asking, do you think your unit will discriminate against you because of time off (well not off, but not in Iraq)?
L.C.: I think that some of them will be haters
L.C.: because they know I have been enjoying it while I can
B.S: Have you felt discriminated against because you are a woman -- do you think this incident will be yet another way for some to marginalize?
L.C.: but I went through a lot with this surgery, and even though I think some people are jealous that I got to come home, I know that they wouldn't want to trade considering the circumstance
L.C.: No,
B.S: Of course. Surgery is no fun. I am sure they are missing your awesome self.
L.C.: most people know that if I wanted to I could start developing 'phantom' pains. If I kept going back to the doctor saying I was still hurting, they wouldn't send me back
B.S: I can imagine that many folks would take that "easy" route.
B.S: And many may expect a woman to go that route.
L.C.: yeah, there's some of them like that here now....
B.S: Women, men?
L.C.:two girls in particular that are getting out of the army and all they do is complain
B.S: What are the reasons?
L.C.: I'm not sure what their reasons are exactly. One seems to have the view that everyone is out to get her. Both of them are somewhat of storytellers. I take everything they say at face value.
L.C.:but there is a guy like that here as well
B.S:Do you think people are afraid, bored, etc?
L.C.: I think that they just take too much for granted
L.C.: don't get me wrong,
L.C.: there's a lot of things that frustrate me about the service,
L.C.: but it has a lot of benefits too
B.S: What kind of benefits?
L.C.: I'm not sure. It's definitely not a job for's a lifestyle, and it takes a lot of getting used to
B.S: Do you think it is harder for a woman to make those adjustments? Or is it easier because women tend to organize, reach out, emotionalize themselves and connect -- and therefore fight the good fight with vigor?
L.C.: eh.....
L.C.: I'm not sure. I think that it depends on the individual. Everyone deals with things different.
B.S: Really, I am curious because our society often pigeonholes women and men into these pre-destined gender roles, and from what I read, those who step out of the roles are at a higher rate of discrimination.
L.C.: That's a good point.
L.C.: I think that women in the service are rewarded for stepping out of the gender roles.
B.S: And it appears that most people's ears perk up when they think of a woman with a gun.
L.C.: ha ha true. I love my rifle.
B.S: Don't get me wrong, I think it is kick ass, because I fight the roles on a daily basis, but the arguments continue...
B.S: Don't you kind of hate that women are rewarded for doing their job?
B.S: How can we ever move in to a world where women are seen as equal if we keep pinning women up for not cooking a pie, and instead fighting for the country (not that we can't do both!!)
L.C.: Depends.
L.C.: I feel that I am just as smart as a man...
B.S: But while WE know that we are more smart, it is not us who we are it?
L.C.: but in some aspects, we will never be the same
L.C.: for instance...
L.C.: I was chosen for combatives
B.S: go on...
L.C.: There were only a few people selected from our company to get certified.
L.C.: I was the only female in the class....
L.C.: the instructors had NO mercy for me
L.C.: I fought dudes, all day everyday for 2 weeks
L.C.: I came home everyday so sore that I could barely make it up the steps
B.S: Did they ever say, "I can't hit a 'girl?'"
L.C.: Yes....
L.C.: and ours instuctors told them that they better, or I would beat their ass
B.S: And you would!
L.C.:ha ha
B.S: I mean, isn't there a command that says not to hurt women or children?
B.S: What are they the only innocence? The men are
L.C.: The last day of class, to pass the course you have to go through a 'Punch Drill"
L.C.: The teachers hit you and you can't hit back
L.C.: you have to get them in a hold so they can't hit you
L.C.: it was no fucking joke...I got busted in the face a few times.....busted nose, blood and all
B.S: Whoa.
B.S: Gosh. That is severe -- vagina or not
L.C.: When it was all over, the instructor let me know that he never takes it easy on females
L.C.: It felt good. Cause I know I held my own even if my face was all fucked up
L.C.: But I know that physically, I'm not as strong as most men. But I'll never give up either.
B.S: What about post hit-in-the-face -- were you getting any kudos that included sexual discriminations
L.C.: in the class?
B.S:I ask because I have talked to men who have a fear of butch lesbians [and the idea of women with guns equates to lesbians in our society for some reason]
L.C.: ha ha me too
B.S: For them, these (awesome) women are intruding on their space; their turf. But at the same time, they would love to have sex with them, because the men think it is "hot" that they are aggressive and may punch them in the face.
B.S: And I'm like WTF? Not all butch girls want to punch people, and the whole point is that they DON'T want to be with men. It's just incredible that women -- no matter what -- get belittled by the patriach.
L.C.:I think some of them try to justify it in their heads that of course they could beat you...but I see men do that with other men as well. Everyone wants to think they are the toughest
B.S: For sure. Especially in the a war environment, you have to be tough, right?
L.C.: that was our instructors main point. I'm not gonna lie,
B.S: I think it is interesting that women are constantly in a double bind
B.S: On the one hand we should assimilate to to the "boy culture" (if we want to be a part of the military, and be seen as equal, we have to be tough, etc). I mean, look at the shit those women in the Citadel get...
B.S: On the other hand, we are expected to wear lip gloss
L.C.: I know you will hate to hear this....
L.C.: I think it's because I'm still 'girly'. I keep lip gloss in a bag with ammo.
L.C.:...(I'm so embarrassed to admit this to you)
B.S: I don't think there is anything wrong with you carrying lip gloss, instead, I see that you have a CHOICE, and that you can look/do as you please. That is a good thing.
L.C.: whew....
L.C.: good.
L.C.: I do it cause i like it....but I feel what you're saying.
L.C.: those classes were all day long, everyday I would get my ass handed to me at some point. We would spend almost all day grappling (fighting on the ground....most fights don't stay up long) and we wouldn't take many breaks. So some of the guys would feel like they got a little break when they got to me....if I would slow down, our teacher would encourage them to beat my ass more.
B.S: Wow. Do you think the fights were unfair in that way then? I mean, what if you were just not strong (and were a man). Would the instructor insist the same way?
L.C.: yep....
L.C.: The main one was an ass sometimes...but he was right
L.C.: Hand to hand combat is just that....he was trying to drive home the point that if you ever get into a situation where you are fighting an insurgent, they aren't going to take it easy on you. You fight for your life, and if you want to go home someday you better fight with eveything you got. Never stop...never slow down....NEVER QUIT.
L.C.: I probably have it easier, cause I seem to fit the mold of what is an 'acceptable' soldier
B.S: what is an acceptable soldier (you knew I would ask)
L.C.: In my opinion an acceptable soldier is one that does their job.
B.S: True.
L.C.: But I mean from societies perspective,
L.C.: I'm still very much female....
L.C.: because I think you are right with the 'butch' women
B.S: How about the other side - are there men who are feminine as well?
L.C.: yes....
L.C.: but I don't think you see it as often
B.S: I feel like it is more dangerous to everyone when we lay down these roles for people. Discrimination on all sides takes place. In our world one is damned if they stay in their assigned role, and damned if they step out of it.
L.C.: I would guess that there are some that would like to be more feminine, but don't want to show it cause of the attached stigma
B.S: I will say that I am happy to hear that you have been safe and treated with fairness.
B.S: In the feminist circle I hear raging numbers of harrassment because of gender.
L.C.: I think that the army knows that they have to tread lightly on issues of discrimination....
L.C.: We have mandatory training events that everyone has to attend. I'm not saying that harassment doesn't happen.The military is still dominated by men
B.S: Yeah, I mean waiters at Ponderosa have similar meetings [on discrimination in the workplace]...
B.S: In this day in age, we are told that discrimination is not cool
L.C.:true....but there are alot of things that can happen to you in the service
B.S: But I contend that those "new" guidelines have pissed some folks off.
L.C.: true
B.S: Do you think the numbers of rape, violence have been exaggerated?
L.C.: hmmm....
L.C.: no
B.S: I mean, maybe people want to get out of the service, and this is a ticket?
L.C.: possibly.....I'm sure it happens. But like anywhere, there are always incidents that go unreported
L.C.: it may even out for those that falsely accuse
L.C.: either way it's a messed up situation
B.S: True. It most certainly is.
B.S: So how did you and Chad meet?
L.C.: here at fort...after my first deployment
B.S: Not that harrassment was a segue -- sorry for the juxtoposition!
B.S: Do you think life is easier for a woman in the military who has a partner who is also serving?
L.C.: no
L.C.: I will probably get out
B.S: get out of what?
L.C.: I probably won't reenlist
B.S: Oh, I see. Will he do the same?
L.C.: No, he has reenlisted.
B.S: How long is the serving time? Have many years have you completed (how many has he)?
L.C.: He will stay in until 2012, and then can decide if he wants to reenlist again
L.C.: We both have been in 3 years.
B.S: Do you mind me asking why you will not enlist again?
L.C.:Sometimes I think that I want to, because as mushy as it sounds....I am damn proud to wear this uniform. But I see what it does to families. I can't imagine us both being in and having kids. It would break my heart to have to leave them with someone else.
B.S: I don't think it is mushy. I think it is great to be committed -- be it your job, your family...
L.C.: If you stay in the same unit, you are on the same deployment the alternative would be to get in two different units on the same base. But I have seen folks that have that arrangement. With the way rotations to the middle east have been going, mom is home one year and then leaves, then dad is gone the next year....and so the cycle goes. I don't want to do that to my kids. Worrying about one parent is enough.
B.S: So then you want to have kiddies?
L.C.: Very much so....whether they are my 'own' or not.
B.S: Well, being a mommy is being a mommy...
L.C.: what about you? Do you want some rugrats someday
B.S: No, I do not want children.
B.S: I also don't want to be married...
B.S: But I love and respect other folks outlooks on life...
L.C.: that's cool.
L.C.: you have to do what makes you happy
L.C.: although I do think that you would make an awesome mother
B.S: I am happy being an awesome auntie.
L.C.: that's good. That's the most fun, cause you can spoil them rotten and then hand them over
B.S: There are so many kids out there who need a good role model, and I keep thinking that where I am headed I will be able to take on that leadership.
B.S: Having kids will (among a list of other things) kind of hold me back...
L.C.: at least you realize that...too many people have them as show items...and then don't want raise them....
B.S.: When are you getting married? (Congrats again, by the way)
L.C.: Technically, we are already married.
L.C.: ha hah....I found out while I was driving down I-5.
B.S: What did you find out on the I-5?
B.S:That you were technically married?
L.C.: yep. crazy huh?
B.S: Yeah, what gives?
L.C.: The big wedding is planned for April. But we should be able to live together in Iraq, so we decided to do a double proxy marriage. Basically, they have stand-ins for you at the justice of the peace in Montana. So I got married and wasn't even there! And now I'm a newlywed with no groom. haahaha
B.S: I have never heard of that before!
B.S: Is that legal?
B.S: I mean did you take his name (or did he take yours)? Do you file taxes together?
L.C.: it's recognized in every state except for Idaho.... but it is recognized by all branches of the military
L.C.: we will file taxes together next time around. I probably won't take his name until April.
B.S: Well, congrats again to you.
B.S: Thank you for enlightening me.
L.C.: You too Bon
L.C.: hahah I feel smarter from just talking to are expanding my vocabulary
B.S: I truly wish you the best in life - if you are anything like the ol' Leah, you will laugh and dance throughout your years.
L.C.: oh my yes.....
B.S: Ok Hon.
L.C.: take it easy
B.S: It is one in the a.m. for me...
L.C.: keep writing the great stuff
B.S: You too!
L.C.: haha
B.S: Chow.
L.C.: adios

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MidWeek News

The new Big Brother will begin with only women contestants; slowly men will be added to the mix. The reason? "It will be a hilarious start,' one insider tells the Daily Mirror. 'The girls' behavior will be fascinating. The first man in will be a real hunk - so the girls can flirt and fight over him.'" Yeah so tune in if you want to watch a group of ladies demoralizing each other, and being catty, coy and jealous for the cameras.

An opinionated take on male vs. female writers, and the ways in which society views American ladies as mushy -- even when they do write about non-lovey-dovey topics, they are still writing about "male" subjects: ships, cowboys, accordion. What is most interesting, is that there seems to be a double standard in terms of writing about emotions, family and relationships: "When writers like [Jeffrey] Eugenides write about families and relationships, critics marvel at their capacity for empathy. When a female writer does the same thing, they sigh and roll their eyes. Men aren't penalized for focusing on family and relationship. Rather, we wonder at their empathy because of their gender." The writer of this piece asks the question -- of which I have asked as well -- where is the outcry? Where is our generation, who should be screaming against the prescribed gender roles? Where are the feminists?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Struggle Between Power and Innocence

This is an interesting take on a woman who made her way to the top by being aggressive and power hungry, but when she found herself in hot water, turned herself back in to a "little girl."

For many, this is a grand example of the manipulative nature of women. Many will use this woman as an example for a continuance of hatred; for a perpetuation of the idea that women are not genuine or strong enough to stand up for themselves.

I am not surprised. I mean this double life is common among women because we are told to be this way. On the one hand, we want so badly to be a part of society -- we want to have the high power jobs, want to have money, make the rules, etc. But often, it seems, climbing that ladder means oppressing someone else. We were oppressed, and to move up, we oppress. It does not seem fair or logical, but that is the reality of our capitalist world. Not that this fact makes it right. More, as we climb the ladder, we not only step on people, but we also make mistakes. And in a world where women are lauded for "acting" innocent and childlike, it is no wonder that we cower back to our specified gender roles when things go awry.

We constantly walk that fine line. And, in some ways, I wonder how much of our decisions are on a conscious level, and how much of these ideas are engrained in our very core.

I will say that in terms of this article about Monica Goodling, the writers at Slate appear to be missing a crucial point, and that is the idea of being a strong (maybe overly powerful) player in the workforce, and facing the judges in court. If someone gives you power, it is easy to execute tasks while on the clock. This is your butt on the line; this is your paycheck. However, in the courtroom, where she could have faced scary penalties, why would she put on her work-place mask? Why would she walk around the chambers as if she owned the place? No one that I know would ever make such a fool of themselves in a place where judicial respect is damn near required.

The authors say that Goodling is not following in the steps of other women before her who would never have trivialized their careers by "reverting" back to this innocent girl. But I contend that it is really hard to get away from this expectation and safety point. I mean I don't like the fact that women are plastered on magazine covers, on the television, or in movies because they look sweet, sexy and innocent, nor do I like that women get talked about as if they are second-class citizens. But they are. And even powerful women like Goodling are subjected to this. She is not immune to the double bind she must adhere to in our society. Basically the message facing women in top positions is: be strong, but be scared too (in addition to being sexy, demure, feminine, a great wife, mother, organizer, friend, etc).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Stop the hatred of women

An impactful video that asks hip hop artists to start respecting women. I think this is a beautiful film that reminds us that it is the everyday misogyny in seemingly small things -- i.e. videos and advertisements -- that perpetuate the hate.

Sunday Feminist Videos

Men asking Men: What is a feminist. Warning, these men (and women) are (mostly) ignorant -- believing that all feminists are militant, lesbians, hate men, hate children.

Bill Maher's explains his view of feminism. Personally, I hate that he equates feminism to holding men down, being the authoritarians, being overly sensitive, untruthful and ball breakers.

Quite the contrary, NO feminist would kick their man down, instead we embrace the equality. We are not saying men are stupid or that they cannot have their libido. Real feminists don't have stickers on their bumpers that say, “Men are dogs.” No, the idea is to treat one another with respect, and the ideas that Maher is perpetuating are that women want to be the traditional male (you know abrasive, smart, sexual and more). They just want to be able to adopt these roles without a gender attachment. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? More, he is forgetting that there are handfuls of men out there who also call themselves feminists. Why? Because dissolving gender roles are good for everybody – men and women alike. It is not one or the other as the person in power; instead both can have a piece of the pie. That is the point.

This radio host is on the airwaves reminding people that women and men are equal, but they are different. Ok. I think women know that we are different, but the idea of being equal means choice. If a man or a woman wants to take care of children, work at home, dress feminine or masculine, they should be able to. He cites a report that says that they only way to change is by allowing the lines to be blurred a bit. I say, YES!! He says god did not design the sexes to be flexible.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cosmetic Genital Surgery

As if women did not have enough to worry about: the ideal is to have big, perfect breasts; be skinny; have perfect hair and teeth; no stretch marks or fat; be wrinkle free, and must please society by being ultra feminine, demure and conforming, they also need to have perfect genitals.

More and more women are having surgery to make their labia more "normal." What in the world is this? Once again our bodies are up on the auctioning block, and only those with streamlined bodies can participate in NORMAL.

Sure, there may be medical reasons to have a procedure like this done, but I would imagine that -- thanks in part to pornographic material, women's and men's magazines, etc -- much of this comes from the need to be picture-perfect; like dolls. In fact, I wonder if the need to have smaller labia reverts back to similar arguments about rail-thin models who appear to be 12 or 13 years old. Is this yet another way to have grown women resemble children (which means innocence, submissiveness, and so on)? I mean, if men want to keep their women in check, maybe some believe that there is no better way than to have them act and look like children...

Gender Roles Play A Part In Domestic Violence

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem speaks out about domestic violence, and the need to not only advocate for its victims/survivors, but that our society needs to take a good look at the ways in which gender roles play a part in the abuse.

It is men who most often are perpetrators of domestic violence, she said, but this is not their fault. Men are not innately more violent creatures, as evidenced by the behavior of other species, whose females tend to be more violent than males in protecting their young, she said. Rather, men are taught to be violent by a society, a "cult of masculinity," which "tells them that in order to be properly masculine and thus really have any worth or identity, they need to be in some degree of control. That may easily lead to violence, especially if they have seen it in their own homes and feel that it is normal, and if they are in a situation where they feel challenged or weakened in some way and therefore not masculine," said Steinem.

The traditional gender roles that portray males as dominant and females as submissive must be overhauled, she said. Steinem credited modern families with raising their daughters more like their sons, "so we produce much more whole daughters and assertive and achieving young women, which is great." But "a lot of us feel less comfortable raising our sons more like our daughters. And yet that's exactly what we need to do. Because they are also not being raised as whole people unless they develop in themselves all the human qualities, a third of which are wrongly labeled feminine and two-thirds are wrongly labeled masculine, but all are human," she said.

I will say that I am in agreement with this idea, as WE really need to make a concerted effort to examine what it means to be a woman or a man in our current society. What identifying markers are we placing on ourselves that are limiting our achievements? What identifications do we contend with that are pigeonholing us in to a particular type of person? In what ways are we being dishonest with ourselves?

Answering these questions may lead to the absolvement of many social issues. It may not be simply the moral or religious ideology that creates and perpetuates these problems, it may be the dichotomous society that we live in.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My USC feminist professor speaks

Dr. Diana Blaine talks about the ideological creation of being normal, and societies DEMAND for conformity. Once one realizes that by putting labels on who or what is normal, we automatically decide who is not abnormal.

She asks what/who are you PERFORMING, and who is going to benefit from NOT speaking up for those who are "not normal" (i.e. the LGBT community, women who are not mothers, couples who are not married)? She also talks about the ways in which society decides what is normal or not for folks who are not white, who are not rich, and who are not educated.

And while we may not walk in the shoes of those who are oppressed, we can stand up for those who need advocating, we can tell people that it is not cool to tell racist or sexist jokes. If you are privileged in any way, use the power to stand up for those who may not be.

She is an awesome leader, and this 48 minute clip is amazing, moving, intellectual. She is brilliant.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Women are too dumb to make choices?

The International Herald Tribune explores the topic of post-abortion stress disorder, which includes the emotional roller coasters of those women who have had abortions in the last 30 years since Roe vs. Wade. It cites last month’s Supreme Court decision that banned partial birth abortions. The main reason? Because women are too emotional and unstable to make a decision about her life, or the life of her fetus. One justice was cited as saying there are three decades of examples where women are living post trauma in an emotion-filled world because they made the decision to terminate.

Ok. What about the folks who have children but cannot afford to have them? What about the folks who have children because they were a victim of rape or incest? What about the folks who have children, but are addicted to drugs or alcoholics? What about those folks who shove fundamental religious b.s. down the throats of their children? Aren’t all of these folks living in an emotional state too? Which is better? Should we have generations of victims, or cut these lives off at the pass? This is where choice comes in. Women, and their families or partners, DO have the ability to think for their selves, despite what legislation tells us otherwise. WE are smart enough to understand consequence, and it is my contention that the ability to care about the lives affected by HAVING the baby is one emotion that women are fully capable of expressing.

Clearly, abortion is a deeply debated issue, but I believe that it goes WAY deeper than the morals or life of the unborn fetus. This is not just about life or death. This is, again, yet another way for the powers-that-be to take control of our bodies. And in fact, they are now attempting to control our minds. Because of course, women are just too damn stupid to think for their selves, and too damn emotional to make rational choices. Right. So we are just expected to sit back and allow a man (there is only one woman who sits on the Supreme Court) to decide our fate? Well, I’m not gonna sit back; and I hope that any other woman – who is breathing – does not either because this is not about your take on abortion, this is about who you are as a person. Apparently, those men in position of power feel we are not even that: people. We appear to be mounds of flesh with no cognitive reasoning to make informed, intelligent choices. What I fear is that the take-over of the female mind may one day trickle down to other choices: whether or not we can live without a husband; whether we can have credit or apply for a loan (can we think fiscally?); and so on.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday News

While I think it is a good thing that society recognizes that women no longer need to live only to procreate, new drugs to completely eliminate monthly periods seems a bit unsafe, as it goes against our natural body cycles. Then again, is the period’s natural cycle only set up to encourage pregnancy?

According to this source, the number of women who have regular mammograms are dropping, particularly among those who are low-income. This is a very interesting topic, especially because report, after report, after report, tells us that breast cancer can be treated. As one doctor on NPR said, if it is a killer, and can be avoided, then make the tests accessible. Put free mammogram clinic vans in front of the mall, the bank, or in the neighborhood. Not being able to afford health insurance (like me) means that many potentially deadly diseases go undetected.

Six states require an ultrasound to women who seek abortions, as legislators claim the tests are medically necessary. Pro-choice proponents say NO, what they do is try to emotionally attach the women to the fetus. A woman knows when she is ready to be a parent or not, and this type of legislation only puts leashes tighter around that free-will choice.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Women-Only Hotel Floor...

As if women need more reasons to be marginalized, one hotel is now offering women-only floors to guarantee their protections. What about in the lobby, in the taxi, at the ice machine, in the elevator. Or what about the other women on the floor who also know how to be aggressive? I mean, come one, do we really need this added level of ostracization? Instead of locking us away, why not focus on the reasons that we have to be segregated in the first place: male and female aggression, rape, lack of programming to explore these issues and stop violence, and so on.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My article in Miami SunPost Pay (in)Equality.

Women Paid Far Less Than Male Counterparts, Study Says — Especially in Florida

By Bonnie Schindler (Miami SunPost)

The typical full-time female worker does not make as much as her male counterpart in any state, according to a report issued by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit research organization affiliated with graduate programs in public policy and women's studies at George Washington University.

Florida is no exception.

The report, “The Best and Worst State Economies for Women,” says that “at the present rate of progress it will take 50 years to close the wage gap nationwide.” Currently, the best “state” for working women was found to be the District of Columbia; the worst state, Arkansas.

According to the report, Florida ranks in the bottom third of an employment and earnings composite index, which combines four indicators of women’s progress: women’s earnings, the wage gap, women’s participation in the labor force and women’s representation in managerial and professional jobs.

“Women still earn less than men, at all levels; that is, women earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes,” said Laura Morilla, executive director of the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women.

The disparity is even worse for minority women, Morilla said.

According to the Women’s Policy Research report, on a national level, white women earn 73.1 percent of what white men do; Asian-American women earn 80.8 percent of what white men earn; black women earn 63.4 percent of what white men earn; Hispanic women earn 52.4 percent of white men’s earnings and American Indian women earn 59.8 percent of what their white male counterparts do.

“This especially impacts an area like Miami, where there are so many minority women,” Morilla said.

Minority and ethnic statistics are compared to white men’s wages, as opposed to men in general, because there are large disparities among men in terms of earnings, and this tends to skew the perspective on how women of color fare, Erica Williams, policy analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told the SunPost.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

News Roundup

Newsweek explores what it means to identify with being female or male in its cover story this week. I will say that while I think it is valuable to show the world that lines should be able to be crossed, there are points in the article that seem to perpetuate the issue. For example, the author talks about what makes things feminine (heels, makeup, dresses), and what makes things masculine (blazer, sneakers, pants), and she says that those who are transgender want to wear a skirt when society tells them to wear slacks (if they are biologically male). Meaning, we are still talking about societal definitions of gender based on material objects such as clothes, shoes and so on. It may have been more educational to talk about how the genderization of materials is the problem in the first place. Maybe labels should not necessarily be placed on a person just because they want to mix things up. Is one transgender -- as the article seems to state -- if one is biologically female, but wishes to dress in a three-piece suit and a Rolex? I feel that if we opened this identity net a bit further to include folks who want to dress and live gender neutral (meaning not attach a gender to materials), the world may better accept those step outside of their molds. It would becoming less of THEM, and more of US.

The United Nations began an anti-discrimination roundtable discussion this week in order to “recommend measures, initiatives and approaches to achieve more complete and consistent application of convention principles at the national level, and thus enhanced enjoyment by women of their rights.”

Women and girls are “disappearing” from the world at an alarming rate – even in an era of “girl power” – the Independent, a UK-based publication, states.

The Contra Costa Times highlights a sociology report about Mommification, which is when employers discriminate against women with children: “Moms were seen as less competent and committed. Moms were half as likely to be hired as childless women or men with or without children. Moms were offered $11,000 less in starting pay than non-moms. And, just for good measure, they were also judged more harshly for tardiness.”

I must say that this burns me up. On the one hand we are discriminated against if we are not being good capitalists and contributing to the work force by having children, and then on the other hand, we can’t get a job if we have children.

Is Google sexist? The report looks at a newly recognized gender-based phenomenon, in which "SHE INVENTS" asks "DID YOU MEAN HE INVENTS" on the site's search engine.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On this Mother's Day, I thank the ladies in my life

Today is Mother's Day, and I am feeling thankful for the women in my life.

It started with my great-grandmother Bessie. She came to the United States from Kolomyia, Poland (now Austria) so that she could do better for herself, and her future family. Little did she know, the Nazi party would sweep through her country and assassinate her remaining family (including her mother and father), her neighbors, and her friends. How do people find the strength to move forward once there has been such tragedy?

She would have more than a handful of children in her life; one of them, Ruth, is my grandma. There is so much to say about this amazing lady. From the time she was old enough to do so, my grammy worked hard to provide for herself. She succumbed to motherhood, and quit her administrative job, but not without a fight. Back in her day women stayed home, and while she knew this was to be her destiny as well, she would get the itch once again...In the meantime, she raised two children, one of whom is my mother Ronna. More, she took on her grandchildren with great persistence, taking us in for the years my mom needed her support, and later, watching us after school, taking us to doctor appointments, and all the little things in between. She has given us so much joy, so much value, so many memories, great dinners, morals, love, beauty (yes, we all inherited her looks), and more. She never said no when it came to her family. Ten years ago, when she was about 73, she got a job to help out her ailing husband -- my grampy -- who has now been gone for a little over a year. She is still working strong, and recently fulfilled yet another one of her dreams: when she was a younger woman, she always said she wanted a bright red convertible. Well, last week the 83-year-old signed her name to a new car lease. And while her hair may not be blowing in the wind, she is sitting classy in the cherry-red Chevy!

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My mom went with her to sign the papers, and to watch as her hip mother sat in the front seat of her new car. She and her mother have such a close bond: they talk on the phone once or twice a day, they go out to lunch, they laugh, cry, and more. I have now taken on that role with my mom. In fact, I have always been close to her heart. As the middle child - I have an older brother and sister, and a younger sister - I somehow squeezed my way in to every situation. Like my vision in life now, as a youngster, I always tried to see the middle ground. My mom encouraged me to try new things, to not worry about image or being too cool. She told me that no matter what I do in life, I would be successful. This is coming from a woman who has persevered through a divorce; taking her four young children with her. She has worked every day since I can remember – always providing for us. Any extra money would be spent on amazing holiday gifts, vacations that were unforgettable, and side adventures such as the local putt-putt, or camp. She is incredible. Her four kids are grown now, but like her mother - who helped raise us - my mom is continuing that unwavering love, as she raises my nephew. For my mom, mothering never stops.

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I am who I am because of the women who have raised me. I have learned from their mistakes, from their strengths, from their values and morals that have passed on to me. I am independent, loving and persistent because of the females who raised me. And while I will not have children of my own - except to my cats of course! - on this Mother’s Day I celebrate moms, aka, empowering women.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Michelle Obama -- not a self-proclaimed feminist, but pretty damn strong if you ask me

She graduated from Princeton and Harvard -- where she says she was surrounded by white professors, and never quite felt like she fit in -- and later moved in to a top law firm in Chicago, where she was making big bucks as the sole black female. Now, she is grappling with the decision to "opt out" of work so that she can raise her kids, and prepare for the adventure of standing next to her husband who may very well become the first black president in the United States.

Is she a feminist, the Washington Post asked her.

"You know, I'm not that into labels," Michelle Obama said in the interview. "So probably, if you laid out a feminist agenda, I would probably agree with a large portion of it," she said. "I wouldn't identify as a feminist just like I probably wouldn't identify as a liberal or a progressive."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

And you thought the national gender wage gap was bad...

Because this is my hometown -- and maybe representative of many blue-collared towns in the United States -- I wanted to point out that Pittsburgh women make NOT the national average of 77 cents to every dollar men make, but instead, make a mere 69 cents.

Good women are white women?

This ad for whitening cream (yes, this is 2007) tells young Indian women that the only way they can get a man, be popular, and please their daddies is to be light skinned. Gross.

News Roundup

A gender-detecting pregnancy test tells parents-to-be which sex their baby will be. The difference between the old and new testing methods is about 14 weeks: the old ones gave results at 20 weeks (via ultrasound) and the new one gives it at the sixth week (via DNA testing). Articles highlighting the product, tell of opposers, such as the director of the Bioethics and Human Rights Program at Boston University worry that "the test will be used to socially choose males over females." I am still trying to get over the fact that they are perpetuating gender rules through the use of pink and blue.

Women are "opting out" of work, and choosing stay-at-home motherhood instead? CBSNews cracks the myth.

'Cause women don't need no stinkin' sex drive.

Few school districts allow young people to cross gender lines.

Why women, even feminists, love to hate Hillary. Carlos Mencia had a similar woman-on-the-street segment, which asked the question, “would you vote for a women president.” Perhaps surprisingly, most said no.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Gender Bendin'

Last night I watched “The Groomsmen,” an endearing film about a group of guys who get together the week before one of their best friends gets married. Like many movies, the film offers various characters to balance out the film: the partier, the serious one, the funny one, the insane one, and so one; but what this film really pulls off is something way deeper than that.

In the movie the men are each other’s support networks. They don’t rely on their women to solve all their problems, to cook and clean, to wipe away their tears – like is often portrayed in films. Instead, they show that men can be just as aggressive as they can be sensitive. This may not be a secret to me, but it is my contention that in general, films over-generalize and perpetuate the masculinity of its characters. So many movies have been created to show the intricate web of women whom rely on one another for love and friendship, and this film showed its audience the other side of the coin.

They do other things as well to smash the typical characteristics of men: instead of hiring a limo filled with strippers, so that the groomsmen could get blow jobs as they drove towards Atlantic City for a weekend of debauchery, they opt to play a game of softball. When one of the friends drinks too much and is about to engage in an extramarital affair, his friend reminds him of his commitment to his wife. Later, this friend wakes up to a hangover, only to have his good friend’s dad cook him a hearty breakfast. Lastly, one of the characters left town for eight years because he was afraid to tell his buddies that he is gay. As he opened up to his old pals, they all accepted him for who he is…not shoving heterosexual rhetoric down his throat.

It may seem simple, but you see, these types of films are the ones in which help women. For every man who is not able to be himself – because he must conform to societies gender role of aggressive, straight, unfaithful, unloving, insensitive, etc. – a hatred towards the norm rises, and that anger may come out in the form of abuse against women. It may also come out as a perpetuation of commidification or objectification against women...burying their sensitivity under machismo: "let’s look at women instead of dealing with our own problems."

Many experts have delved in to the subject of gender roles in American society. Nancy Chodorow's essay, "Family Structure and Feminine Personality,” highlights one way in which a perpetuation of misogyny exists. She basically says that most men are raised by their mothers or grandmothers – although this is currently changing a bit, as more men are stepping in to the stay-at-home dad role – they become FIRST accustomed to being gentle, sensitive, and so on; however they must soon step in to their SECOND stage of development in our society: the manly, masculine, aggressive, boys-are-not-allowed-to-cry mentality. This is what society expects of them (generally). In this self identification process men must see themselves as unfeminine – if they want to survive in this world – and therefore begin to scorn their mothers, and all things feminine in order to emphasize their new identity.

One has to wonder how things would be different if these gender roles – femininity and masculinity – were not extricablly assigned to a particular biological sex. Clearly a lot of people cross the “lines” all of the time: While there may be the societal definitions of both male and female, there are also people who are biologically male, but present as a female; and biological females who present as a male. There are biological females who present as a female, but identify with being male, and so on. Really, there are many combinations. Unfortunately the majority does not accept this as real.

Some states are making progressive strides towards changing this.

In Vermont this week, a bill banning the discrimination of people based on their gender or, more importantly perhaps, their gender identification, has passed their legislature, and now awaits their governor’s John Hancock. If signed, it will go in to effect July 1.

The Advocate reported on the bill and quoted a representative from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as saying, “transgender [residents will] finally crack the dehumanizing and untenable barrier of second-class citizenship and the pervasive discrimination it encompasses."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Safety net for victims of LGBT and gender hate crimes may be vetoed

Today an expansion on the Hate Crime bill (H.R. 1592) is expected to pass in the House today. Currently the Hate Crime Bill already in place protects individuals against crimes founded on race, religion, color, or national original. The expanded version will federally protect folks from threats and attacks based on gender or sexual orientation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly -- mainly because unless one is a heterosexual conservative in this country, protection is not guaranteed – news articles are already circulating stating that the White House plans to veto it.

The reason?

Republicans -- who have been the most outspoken on the bill's passage -- feel it will go against freedom of speech and the freedom to express one's religion.

Ok, so it is not okay to beat the crap out of someone based on their skin color, but it is okay to beat the crap out of someone who breaks traditional gender roles, or represents a sexual orientation other than straight? This is ludicrous.

More, since when did violent attacks count as freedom of speech?

Each year about 15 percent of the hate crimes in this country happen because someone is of the LGBT community. Do the powers-that-be think that this number is just not high enough to constitute as a real threat?

I think that hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender folks, or anyone who steps outside of their role as a woman or man, stems from a few areas:

1. We live in a capitalist society where people make money off one another. We are meant to be individuals – meaning to pull ourselves up on our own and not ask for handouts – yet, we are also meant to have families. If a couple cannot (or chooses not to) have a child, they are not contributing to the money machine. No kids = no new industry workers = no new money for the country.

2. The U.S. is historically misogynistic. There has been a lot of hatred and discrimination against women. The reasons may be varied, but what I always find interesting is that those who hate women tend to hate gay folks too…is it because those who are not in a heterosexual relationship are acting like women? Hmmm.

For an upcoming article I am working on about pay inequality, based on gender, I came across a report that lists Arkansas as the state with the largest gap between pay grades. Women in Arkansas make less, are less likely to be in positions of power, own their own businesses, or take part in jobs that are traditionally male-oriented.

It appears that their fear of women permeates into other areas as well.

A small blurb in The Week – in a section titled Only In America – points out an Arkansas man who is suing his local library for $20,000 because his two sons, ages 14 and 16, got hold of “a lesbian sex manual: Felice Newman’s 'The Whole Lesbian Sex Book.' ”

The article says the two “were traumatized” by the discovery, and led to “many sleepless nights in [their] house.”

It is homes like this that make it necessary to have a safety net in place for people who may be discriminated against, attacked, killed, banned or, now, sued because of who they are.